Combining Branches here in Vladivostok was the best thing ever. We had 62 people in sacrament meeting and it just felt like a real Church. There were over 20 people in Priesthood meeting (only 8 of them were missionaries). With the new organization is coming a lot of new callings and responsibilities for members of the Church. It's great for me to see how the Lord calls those whom He has prepared, and how everyone is called to a responsibility in the Church for a wise purpose in the Lord.
Yesterday there actually were "ooooo's" as a 25 year old ward missionary and teacher in the Sunday School was sustained as Relief Society President. For those reading this who don't know that that means...it isn't a fun or easy job by any stretch of the imagination. The Relief Society is responsible for taking care of the needs of all the women of the Branch, both to make sure that their physical well-being is met as well as spiritual. It is often considered the most demanding responsibility someone can be given. Nastia is completely overwhelmed with her calling. Before Sacrament Meeting she was in the hall telling me over and over "I'm scared." As I looked around the room and saw women who had previously served in that position, or those who are simply more experienced in home-making and counsel, I thought of the great opportunity this is for Nastia to grow. I know that the Lord called her to that position and will bless her with the charity and wisdom to bless the lives of the sisters in our Branch. I love how the Lord makes us grow. Like when he calls a 19 year old kid to preach the Gospel to strangers in Russia. No one in their right mind would take a chance like that...it's a good thing the Lord knows our potential better than we do. How could we do anything but trust?
On Saturday I taught a lesson about the Plan of Salvation to a 50 year old man named Arture. He told me that only two days before he had buried his father. As I bore witness to him of the reality of God's plan for us and His mercy and promised him that he would see his father again, tears flowed freely. It is such a comfort to all those who recognize it! God has a plan for us. We can live with Him again, and with our families. We can be happy for eternity, if we only keep the commandments of the Lord and do what is necessary to invite His Spirit and blessings into our lives. There is nothing more real than that. I know that it is true.
The other day I was reading an article in the Liahona magazine from January written by Elder Neil L. Anderson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He told about his interview before being called as a Stake President. One of the questions he was asked in that interview by a General Authority was "How did you gain your testimony?" I thought a lot about that question and spent all morning yesterday thinking back and writing out to myself the story of how I gained a testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ and His Restored Gospel. It was a great experience for me to reflect inwardly to look at the great blessings and experiences that led me to be able to confidently say that I KNOW that it is true. Now I'm not a convert to the Church. I was blessed to be born to great parents who are active, faithful members, but I still have been converted to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as much as anyone. I'd like to challenge anyone who reads this, and who has gained a testimony of our Savior and His Church, to answer this same question. How did you gain your testimony? I'd love to read your stories. They will build me up and help me to know better how to help others here in Russian gain their own testimonies. I am really looking forward to reading your responses.
As it conitues to snow here in Vladivostok (we've got about another 5 inches of fresh snow in since last night) I am looking forward to my trip to Korea this week. I know it's selfish of me, but its warm in Seoul, and people there are incredibly nice...and neckties are cheaper than anywhere I've ever been. Good times ahead.
I pray that all is well with each of you, that you remember what the Lord has done for you and the opportunities He has given you to gain your own testimony of Jesus Christ and of the Restored Gospel. Take the opportunities. Read the Book of Mormon and other scriptures, and pray to your Father in Heaven each day. If you do those simple things, you'll find the joy that I find in each day that I live.
With Love, (С любовью,)
Elder Fife (Старейштна Файф)